‘Freedom’ is a decent but flawed movie that takes a no holds barred look at historical US slavery. It is not in the same league as films like ’12 Years a Slave’, but it does have its charms. Cuba Gooding Jr. certainly puts his all into his role, but a small budget and some over the top writing stop it from being a truly great film.
The movie features a split story format jumping between a pair of historically distinct narratives. One follows Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a slave in 1856 Richmond, Virginia, that is working to escape from a plantation for Canada. He follows the Underground Railroad while being chased by the ruthless slave hunter Plimpton (William Sadler). Haunted by the ghosts of the institution that has condemned both him and his ancestors and teased with potential freedom, Samuel must decide if he wants to seek revenge or just escape.
The second narrative takes place about one hundred years earlier in 1748. John Newton (Bernhard Forcher) is the captain of a slave trader ship that sails from Africa to America. The grandfather of Samuel (from the other narrative) is one of the slaves onboard during this particular voyage. As the journey to America continues it becomes clear that this particular trip will change Newton’s life forever. These changes will reverberate through the lives of Samuel (and millions of others as time goes on).
‘Freedom’ is fairly heavy on the faith and religion. It certainly has faith as one its key themes and plot points. While this may not bother some viewers, at times the movie does get a bit preachy to a point unnecessary to further the plot. Some aspect of religion is necessary for the story and to keep things accurate, but ‘Freedom’ doesn’t really do a good job offering up other historical themes at the same intensity.
A huge positive for the film is the way that it handles the issue of slavery itself. This was a dark and violent time and ‘Freedom’ reveals it as such. It also does not shy away from introducing famous historical figures into the mix. This can either be hit or miss, but this movie keeps it tasteful and necessary.
‘Freedom’ may not be on par with many of the great films that detail the horrors and victories of the slavery era but it is still a decent film that is worth a watch.